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Spring Fire burns nearly 95,000 acres as firefighters work to save Cuchara

Posted at 4:10 PM, Jul 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-04 18:10:55-04
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The Spring Fire is now the third largest wildfire in Colorado history, and it’s still burning out of control on the Fourth of July.

Incident commanders said Wednesday morning that the fire has burned an estimated 94,125 acres. It is 5 percent contained. 

At this time, no loss of life or injuries have been reported with the fire, but at least 135 structures have been lost in Costilla County alone. Crews have not been able to assess possible structure loss in Huerfano County yet.

The fire is advancing primarily on two fronts. The north side of the fire is burning into Huerfano County and the south side of the fire is threatening the town of Cuchara and could possibly move over the Las Animas County/Huerfano County line.

Crews reported progress on building fire lines around Cuchara and the Pinehaven subdivision. Crews have kept the fire from jumping Highway 12 and put a bulldozer line between the fire and the highway. They have also been performing back burns in that area in an effort to keep the fire away from the town.

Incident command said Wednesday 986 firefighters are assigned to fight the fire and it has cost $8.2 million to fight thus far. The Rocky Mountain region is now on a level 4 preparedness level for wildfires. This means more resources will be availble to fight the Spring Fire and other fires burning around the state.

RELATED: Spring Fire: How you can help

Highway 160, a major east-west artery in Colorado, remains closed at La Veta Pass. Highway 12 in the Cuchara Valley remains closed south of La Veta.

Authorities say the fire was started by 52-year-old Jesper Joergensen. According to an arrest affidavit, Joergensen said he started a fire to cook meat and it quickly burned out of control. 

He is suspected of arson and immigration authorities say he was an illegal immigrant from Denmark who started the fire on June 27.

EVACUATION INFORMATION

Pre-evacuations were expanded Tuesday night on both the north and south forks of the fire, covering a stretch from the Pueblo County line into Las Animas County.

The latest evacuations mean almost the entire western half of Huerfano County is in a pre-evacuation zone or under mandatory evacuation orders.

Huerfano County

On the north side of the fire, Huerfano County emergency management officials issued pre-evacuation orders of their own stretching from I-25 west to the Custer County line and from Highway 69 north to the the Pueblo County line.

That order includes the communities of Black Mountain, Aspen Mountain, Libre, El Toro, CL&L, Buffalo Ranch, and Eagle Flat Ranch. The towns of Gardner and La Veta are also on pre-evacuation status. 

The latest pre-evacution orders means almost the entire western half of Huerfano County is under either mandatory evacuation orders or pre-evacuation orders. Walsenburg is not included in any evacuation or pre-evacuation orders.

These new orders are in addition to mandatory evacuation orders issued earlier for all residents in the area north of County Road 362 to the county line.

That area includes the the School Creek, Wahotoya Valley, Little Kansas, and East Spanish Peaks communities, the area known as the “Mesa,” as well as the west side of Shangri La.

Mandatory evacuation orders were also issued for the Chama, Redwing, Malachite, and Badito areas south of Highway 69. 

Navajo Ranch, Majors Ranch, and homes along County Road 530 south to Highway 160 including Vega Road near Navajo are also under mandatory evacuation orders. Evacuees can leave north to Highway 69 or Highway 160 only going east.

To find out if your area is affected, Huerfano County Emergency Management has a link for residents to receive notifications. 

EVACUATION/ASSISTANCE CENTERS

Evacuees from Huerfano County should go to the Red Cross Shelter in Walsenburg at 928 Russell Street Walsenburg, CO 81089.

County officials also opened a new location to receive Rapid Re-entry identification cards at the Upper Huerfano Fire Protection District. That’s located at 25396 CO HWY 69, Gardner, CO and it will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

La Veta Disaster Assistance Center located at 126 E Garland St in La Veta


Las Animas County

On the south side of the fire, Las Animas County emergency management officials issued a pre-evacuation order for all residents living south of the Huerfano/Las Animas County line to County Road 42. The zone extends east to County Road 21.7 and west to Highway 12.

The area includes all phases of  the Cuchara Pass Ranches, Timber Creek Ranch, Timber Ridge at Cordova Pass and the Spanish Peak Ranch Estates.  A pre-evacuation order means that anyone living in those areas should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.


Costilla County

On the western flank of the fire, The Indian Creek and Trinchera Ranch area moved from mandatory evacuations to pre-evacuations Tuesday. Rapid tags and a second form of ID will be required for re-entry to the fire area. 

San Luis Valley Emergency officials announced a procedure explaining different stages of re-entry for residents living in the burn area.

  • Phase A will allow debris cleaning crews, damage assessment teams to go in and make sure the area is safe
  • Phase B will allow limited re-entry into the fire area for a short window of time and residents will need to come back out at the end of the window of entry. Residents must have their Rapid Tag and photo identification to be let back in
  • Phase C will allow residents and business owners to re-enter the burn area with Rapid Tags. 

At this time, there is no timeline for re-entry. The fire has burned at least 135 structures have been lost in Costilla County. And some parts of the burn area are still inaccessible. At least 104 homes were burned in the Forbes Park subdivision.

A new disaster assistance center opened Tuesday at Centennial High School in San Luis. The center is open to help to help people recovery efforts. They’ll offer housing items and and information on property clean-up. There will also be several counselors and doctors to assist anyone who may need their services.

EVACUATION/ASSISTANCE CENTERS

Blanca/Fort Garland Community Center located at 17591 E. Hwy 160 in Blanca, CO

Centennial High School in San Luis located at 14644 CO-159, San Luis, CO 81152